Cisco’s John Chambers: How to ride networking’s new wave

In his keynote speech at Interop, the technology leader talks about the Internet of Things, the power of SDNs, and the real impact of mobility

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The future of the network will be all about the applications economy, one where the cloud and mobility will be instrumental to business success, according to Cisco CEO John Chambers.

Chambers made the upbeat comments during his keynote address at the Interop 2013 event in New York. In a keynote titled, Driving IT Transformation, Creating New Opportunities, he posits that the “next wave of innovation” for the IT network is about “the Internet of Things,” an evolving technology that is programmable, application-centric and features a high degree of security and scalability. As a result, Cisco is making the shift towards becoming an applications company in anticipation of this new world of networking, he added.

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The “networking new wave” as organizations shift from a PC-environment to an “any device” one, is fraught with challenges and opportunities, said Chambers. He added that the pace of change — particularly around the cloud, mobility, and “big data” — will be something that technology decision makers will have to adapt to in terms of innovation and developing new business models around software-defined networks (SDNs) and the OpenFlow standard. Companies are looking for networking tools that are easy to integrate, he added, and SDNs enable network managers to adapt and respond quickly to changing business requirements.

“I think our industry is about to hit the next wave, in terms of relevance, changing the world….and at a pace that we’ve not done before,” said Chambers.  “The next wave is about the Internet of Things implemented by combining things with process, with business changes and with people. And it will drive a productivity number and a financial number that is mind-boggling. The network will literally become the computer — you aren’t going to know or care there the applications reside, where the processes are, where the storage occurs.”

About 87 per cent of companies today will have a major shortfall in revenue over the next few years, and only 10 or 11 per cent of companies will recover, said Chambers, citing MIT statistics.

That said, the power of IT and the network has the potential to transform the way organizations adapt to today’s business challenges. “The pace of change is exponential, and the challenges that go with them will be exponential,” said Chambers, adding that the faster pace of IT will enable new business models.

From an IT trend perspective, client-server has moved to mobile device and cloud, and network applications that used to run on a mainframe are now more “consumer-like” in terms of implementation, he said, adding that the application downloads and number of devices will top 77 billion by 2014 compared to 10 billion just in 2010. But it’s more than just about the Internet and the explosion of mobile devices, notes Chambers: “The devices are just the enabler. It’s the ability to bring applications to these devices, which, if you can program to each device with common APIs and common interfaces to the network, think what this is going to change.”

The future of the intelligent network — an application centric infrastructure where everything is IP-enabled and connected to the Internet — will also see how organizations approach structured and unstructured data changes as well: “You will also see data analysis change as it isn’t so much about crunching data in a big data centre. It’s now about data in motion…that gets you the relevant information in the time you need to make real-time decisions.”

In an earlier keynote, Ciena CTO Steve Alexander concurred with Chambers’ take on the evolving network, adding that the power of the network will hinge on “openness” and the network as an open platform. For all the hype around the transformative power of SDN, SDN may actually be under-hyped, he said. “I think (SDN) might be the most transformative thing we’ve come across in the past few decades. Maybe in 10 or 15 years, we will look back and think how did we ever build network any other way than as these programmable platforms.”

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